Sean McLain showing potential for ASU baseball with newfound power

After not finding the field last year, the redshirt freshman is turning heads in fall ball

ASU baseball redshirt freshman outfielder Sean McLain, who was unable to find the field last year due to a hamate injury and the stoppage of play due to the pandemic, is the name that several players and coaches have championed as the team's breakout star this fall. 

"Where I've seen the most jumps is not only (in) average but (in) power," head coach Tracy Smith said. "That's been fun to see. It usually takes those guys when they’re freshmen a little time to settle down, relax and find out what they going to be. (McLain's) the one who's made the biggest jump and could make the biggest contributions compared to last year."

Starting off 2020 as the third-ranked team in the country by Baseball America, ASU's season was ripped away from them due to the pandemic. 

A few months later, five Sun Devils were taken in the 2020 MLB Draft, including the Preseason Player of the Year Spencer Torkelson, infielders Alika Williams and Gage Workman, outfielder Trevor Hauver and closer RJ Dabovich. 

Those four batters accounted for 15 of ASU’s 20 home runs last year and over half of the team’s total bases. Hitting coach Michael Earley said the team would “pivot” to find new ways to produce offense, focusing less on blasting the ball over the fence and emphasizing more small ball, including hitting for contact and movement on the base paths.

Enter McLain, who redshirt sophomore starting pitchers Erik Tolman and Tyler Thornton said has been the most difficult out on the team this fall. 

"That kid seems like he can never get out," Tolman said. "He seems to battle, get into deep counts, get on (base) with walks and hits."

McLain believes he fits well into the Sun Devils’ new offensive mold as someone who can hit to all fields and make pitchers nervous with speed. 

"There's going to be a change, it's going to be 'Get him on, get him over, get him in,'" McLain said. "I think I fit in well with that with guys like (Drew) Swift, (Joe) Lampe. Guys who are fast."

Thornton pointed out that McLain has not only reached base a lot this fall but has also shown the ability to hit home runs. According to Earley, McLain has launched three or four of them this fall already, and that was before he drilled a grand slam.

Part of the reason why McLain's power has increased is he put on weight during the offseason, some 10-15 pounds onto his previously listed 175-pound frame, according to Earley. The added weight allows McLain to stay strong with his lower body and drive the ball more. 

"The size of his arms are like double what they were," Earley said. "The ball sounds different off his bat. He liked to slide little forward with his hips when he hit and the ball would get on him. He does a really good job with his added strength planting his base and staying strong and making adjustments in the box."

Luckily for McLain, he had a gym to work out in during the summer, and two brothers who play baseball to push him.

His older brother, Matt, is a former first-round pick and current redshirt sophomore shortstop at UCLA. He played 61 games as a freshman in 2019 and hit .203. But as a sophomore, he made a significant improvement, albeit in 13 games, batting .397 with a .621 slugging percentage. 

His younger brother, Nick, is committed to UCLA and a top 200 recruit according to Perfect Game.

McLain and Earley said that having Matt to workout with and compete against this offseason has made a difference. 

"When we are back home, (Matt) and I, and my little brother, we compete," McLain said. "We all had a place to work out privately. Tons of ground ball work and talking to him about everything. It's great to compete against one of the best in the nation."

Earley told his players that he does not expect 50 home runs from them, and despite his added strength, McLain isn’t trying to hit long balls. His goal is to drill the center field fence. 

The California native has set his eyes toward winning the Pac-12 Championship and helping his team get to the College World Series in Omaha. 

But in order for ASU to get there, McLain will need to translate these improvements to the diamond in 2021.

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